Monday, February 13, 2012

Bad Boys & Me in Real Life & Fiction (Stephanie Kuehnert

These were the boys of my pre-teen and early teenage dreams:

Bender from The Breakfast Club, the troubled boy from the wrong side of the tracks. Yeah, he's a jerk sometimes, but that tough outer shell is protecting a damaged kid. He's a survivor, and the right person will draw out the real him. (But I really don't want it to be Molly Ringwald. Not unless she grows out of the spoiled rich brat thing.)

Dylan McKay from Beverly Hills, 90210. He's basically the rich boy version of Bender, which admittedly made me like him a little less, but the surfing and motorcycle riding and that scene in the very first season where he's crying alone in his fancy hotel suite while wearing really bad early 90s overalls makes up for it.

I almost don't know if it's fair to call Kurt Cobain a crush because I wanted to be his best friend more than anything. But he sums up a type for me: the angsty poet, troubled rock star.

Oh Jordan Catalano from My So-Called Life. I watched Angela lust over you during her sophomore year of high school, which also happened to be my sophomore year of high school and I related so much. That aloof act. That future troubled rock star vibe. In truth, you probably had less depth than Bender or even Dylan, but I couldn't see that at the time. Not in you or my real life versions of you.

Brandon Lee as Eric Draven from The Crow. This movie was the ultimate romance for me as a teen. It still is today. Maybe that says some pretty dark and twisted things about me, but hey I'll own it. The dude comes back from the dead to avenge his girlfriend. What happened to her (rape and murder) clearly causes him so much pain and torture. I saw this movie with my friends roughly one million times in high school. The girls loved it because we all wanted a guy as beautiful as Eric to love us as much as he loved Shelly. The guys loved it because there was lots of violence.

These five guys represent the male archetypes that have shaped me. They have all played major roles in my teenage love life and now in my fiction.

I spent my teenage years and early twenties dating boys that were troubled like Bender and Dylan (and I did date one from the wrong side of the tracks and one who was upper middle class aspiring to be like Dylan) and/or aloof like Jordan because as my mother liked to say I was convinced that "still water runs deep." I saw their wounded, tortured souls, and being a wounded, tortured soul myself, I related. I thought we could heal and grow together, but mostly we just did a lot of drinking and drugs.

My first love looked a lot like Brandon Lee--well he had long, dark curls anyway--but he was a junkie. The second guy I fell for was obsessed with The Crow, but he couldn't commit to one girl let alone love her like Eric loved Shelly. The third guy was an angsty rocker type, who admired Kurt Cobain as much as I did. He emulated him, too, but unfortunately he didn't have Kurt's respect for women. He was emotionally and sexually abusive.

Pieces of these guys definitely have made it into my books. My old wishful ideas make it in, too. Michael in I WANNA BE YOUR JOEY RAMONE is an Eric Draven in some ways--the eternal love way and wishing he could save the woman he loves way--and that's probably why I gave him the dark curly hair. (Though in truth, I later realized that he was subconsciously modeled on an amazing guy friend I had in high school and he is named for another equally amazing guy friend. Tom in IWBYJR is named for and probably modeled a little bit after the one good guy I dated in high school.)

Sometimes I take a piece of something from my own life and take it further, push it in a different direction. Johnny from IWBYJR and Christian from BALLADS OF SUBURBIA probably bear some resemblance to guy #3, the angsty rocker abusive boyfriend from my teen years. Not that I directly took from my own life (at least not consciously), but writing is definitely a way that I work through my old pain and issues so a little bit of my own history filters in. I wrote an essay about guy #2 for Rookie Magazine a few months ago. And the very first comment was how it was clear that I wrote from personal experience because it was just like the relationship between Adrian and Kara in BALLADS.

Admittedly Adrian was a combo of just about every guy I loved or lusted after in high school. Pretty and troubled. The ideal bad boy. And who hasn't fallen for a bad boy, right? I certainly did all time. I get emails from readers about how they love Adrian even though they know they shouldn't. He's irresistible even though he's so obviously wrong. Maybe he can change. I smile when I read these because that's exactly how I felt about all of the real life Adrian's. I loved them and the Bender and Dylan type characters because I saw their complexities. They were real, not just bad for bad's sake. I loved those kinds of boys when I was younger and will always love writing those kinds of boys.

My real-life Adrians didn't change, but I do believe (and know from my own experience) that people can, which is why I was really excited to write my bad boy love interest in the Bartender Book. I actually even named him Bender after the Breakfast Club character who inspired him a little bit (and his best friend is Dylan, though my Dylan is not rich and troubled, like my Bender he is wrong-side-of-the-tracks troubled). I wanted to examine that kind of guy after high school, after he makes one too many mistakes and can choose to either change or fall further into his spiral. Adrian in BALLADS is the bad boy it is dangerous to love. Bender is the bad boy it might be okay to, so it was a lot of fun writing him. (And I hope the book sells so that you can read about it!)

In terms of my personal life, I finally learned that you can find gorgeous, tattooed, mohawked nice boys who will love you with the intensity that Eric Draven loved Shelly. I married my nice boy, which may be why I've written some slightly happier relationships for my characters lately. However, I'm not going stray away from the bad boys in my books, though I hated the drama and angst that they brought to my real life, it is perfect for my fiction!


  1. Wow, I hope it sells too because I want to read that story! :-)

  2. Me, too, I will be rooting for your book to sell soon! Bender is definitely my favorite character in "The Breakfast Club," so that's extra incentive to want to read your story. :)

  3. Thanks, Ara! He is my favorite, too, and the Bender I wrote in that book may be my favorite boy character that I've ever written.

  4. This is definitely the list in my brain. I dated one of those really dangerous bad boys in high school, where real physical and emotional harm was caused but he had a sheen of good-guy respectability.

  5. I might still--ahem--write to the occasional rerun of 90210...

  6. Jordan Catalano!!!! I'll never understand why that cancelled that show!!! Great post!